Power of fire harnessed for ancient Thera’s daily needs

For eons, fire has been a source of fascination for all cultures. During the Bronze Age, the inhabitants of the island of Thera (Santorini) had not only harnessed its power, but used it to solve many of their daily needs, according to Professor Christos Doumas, who addressed a gathering of the Archaeological Society this week on the way fire was used on the island at that time. This was a society that had reached the peak of its development, culturally and economically, shortly before being buried beneath tons of lava. Doumas explained the uses of fire in the home, in the preparation of food, in the economy and in ceremonial acts. Several findings recently brought to light during the excavation of the foundations for the new roof at the site have provided new information on the details of daily life in Akrotiri, chiefly during the Early and Middle Bronze Age. Portable grills Ovens, different types of cooking pots, baking dishes, rotary skewers and portable grills appear to have been necessary items in every home; all these implements were invented to make the best use of fire. As evident from ruins from the third millenium BC, these implements were a permanent fixture in homes. Ovens, consisting of a lower section to contain the fire and an upper section for baking, date from the Middle Cycladic period. In the Late Cycladic town there are stone or clay implements partly submerged in the earth. «These appear to have functioned as a fire-extinguishing area, either to put out charcoal and save fuel or to prevent fires,» said Doumas. The use of the three-legged pot (known in the northern Aegean from the beginning of the Early Bronze age) also appears to have been widespread. «Its broad use is indicative of a change in dietary habits toward more boiled foods,» said Doumas. «From analysis of Late Cycladic three-legged pots, it has been discovered that the clay used contained considerable amounts of mica, which made them more fire-resistant,» he added. The analyses showed remnants of fat, indicative of the considerable fatty content of their diet. These portable hearths had high legs and were not only used for cooking but for heating during the winter months. Other impressive implements include long flat objects with incisions on the one side, used as bases for skewers and found only in Late Cycladic households, usually in pairs. They were considerably stable and had one or two loop-shaped handles on their outer sides. Another peculiar clay implement found in the excavations was most likely the base for a torch, according to Doumas. Lighting was also achieved by means of a number of different kinds of lamps, both portable and of the table variety, a number of which have survived. Fire was used in pottery, metallurgy, lime-kilns, the manufacture of fabrics and in making honey, as is evident from the beautiful small, perforated implements used as bee smokers.